Starting a business is a process that’s both exciting and scary. But what about creating an entire brand identity? Branding tells the world who you are, what you’re about, and what people can expect from interacting with your business. It’s a big deal!
Take Girl Gang Goodies, an online cookie delivery business started by Morgan Lunn. It was a brisk day in January when Morgan decided to start her business, and with a launch date of Valentine’s Day in mind — which was only two weeks away — she knew she needed to create a recognizable brand identity that she could build on.
She created a logo, business cards, and branded labels, and went to work on launching her service. Of course, it took longer than two weeks for Morgan to fully build her brand, something that often happens over the course of developing a business (and name recognition).
That said, having a strong brand strategy and quality product offering from the get-go helped make Girl Gang Goodies a success.
Want to know the steps to branding a company? You’re in the right place.
This guide will cover:
- The difference between a brand, branding, and brand identity
- Coming up with a brand strategy
- Building a brand identity (and incorporating it into your business)
Ready? Let’s hop to it!
The difference between a brand, branding, and brand identity
A brand is much more than a recognizable name and logo. It’s the overall perception of your business. This means that a brand only truly exists in the minds of customers.
Consider all the impressions a customer has based on every interaction they’ve had with any element of your company. Each of these interactions sends a message, and it’s important to make sure that all of these messages point in the right direction to support your overall brand strategy.
What is branding?
To build a brand, you’ll need to practice the art of branding. Branding is defined as the actions you take to create a distinctive, memorable brand. It’s the (hard) work you put into developing your desired image.
Here are a few reasons why branding is so important:
- Branding builds customer loyalty and referrals. People tend to choose companies they’re familiar with, and because people love to tell others about brands they like, referrals will follow.
- Branding helps you stand out from the competition. The world is noisy — especially the marketing world. With all this noise, you want to stand out from competitors with a strong brand and live up to what it promises.
- Branding builds recognition. A consistent brand helps customers know what to expect every time they interact with your business, putting them at ease. Think of Starbucks — no matter what city you’re in, you can expect the same level of experience.
- Branding helps you create clarity and stay focused. Having a clear brand strategy and purpose helps you stay focused on your mission and make better marketing decisions.
- Branding helps you connect with your customers (on an emotional level). A good brand makes people feel good when they buy your products or services. Think about telling a story or standing for something that people can rally around.
To sum it up, strong branding increases your business’s value. Airbnb, for example, started out as an idea between the founders who had just moved to New York. Noticing a lack of hotel vacancies in the city, they took matters into their own hands.
They bought a couple of airbeds and charged guests $80 a night for a place to sleep and breakfast to eat. Now the “airbed and breakfast” has grown into a multi-million dollar company with a widely recognized brand that delivers on their promise of making people feel like they “belong anywhere.”
What is brand identity?
Brand identity is the result of branding. It’s the collection of tangible brand elements that a company creates to portray the right image of itself to its target audience. These elements make up the visual branding that your audience can see and recognize to be yours.
Brand assets are tangible elements that make up your brand identity. From your logo, slogan, to even a mascot, these are the unique identifying pieces that distinguish your brand from others.
Having brand assets can greatly benefit your business, as it gives you a competitive edge and encourages customer loyalty. Your brand assets should automatically be associated with your brand in the minds of consumers, and never a competitor’s brand.
Examples of brand assets:
- Brand name
- Advertising style
Brand guidelines (also called a style guide) are a set of rules about how to represent your brand across channels and assets, helping your business build credibility and recognition as you grow. They usually include color and typography guidelines, logo use cases, imagery examples, and more.
Designing a logo is a solid starting point for creating brand identity guidelines (in fact, you can get them when you create a logo with Looka).
Coming up with a brand strategy
At this point, you know the difference between a brand, branding, and brand identity. So how do you apply this newfound knowledge to your business?
“Brand strategy” can sound scarier than it actually is. It’s really about defining your target audience and seeing how your offering can stand out to them.
Here’s how to do it in four simple steps.
1. Figure out your place in the market and define your target audience
A major part of defining your brand strategy is figuring out where your place is in the market, and knowing if there’s a demand for what you offer. Once you have an idea of this, take a look at your competitors and figure out what it is that they’re doing.
What is their messaging like? Their brand presence? Their customer service? Take the sum of all the marketing touchpoints and business initiatives of your competitors and define how you can do better while staying true to who you are.
Of course, it’s not possible to satisfy everyone, which is why you’ll always need to keep who you’re trying to reach in mind. Tailor your mission and messaging to your target audience.
2. Define what your purpose is and why
What is your company most passionate about? What is your reason for existing? What causes do you stand for?
Your purpose is the driving force behind any and all things that you do. Every single aspect of your branding needs to reflect this to ensure a strong brand. To help break this down, defining the following will give you more direction:
Brand essence – the core defining characteristic of your brand. This is intangible to your audience and unique to your brand
Vision – the what. This is the sole reason for your brand’s existence
Mission – the how. The action that your brand is taking to bring your vision to life
Values – the why. The driving force behind your vision and mission
Brand voice – if your brand were a person, what would they sound like? This is how you communicate to your audience
To illustrate the idea of vision, mission, and values, let’s take a look at Slack, an online communication platform for businesses. Their vision is to “make work life simpler, more pleasant and more productive.”
Their mission — how they’re doing this — is by working with global partners and developers to “build apps and integrations that streamline work, automate mundane tasks and bring context into conversations.”
By simply reading their vision, you get a sense of what the successful platform values: simplicity and productiveness in a pleasant workplace.
3. Choose a business name
What name will best describe who you are and what you do? As your main identifier, it’s critical to find a name that personifies your brand.
How do you come up with this key element? Here are a few ideas to get the wheels turning:
- Make up a word – Example: Pepsi
- Reframe an unrelated word – Example: Apple (apples have nothing to do with the line of high-end electronic products)
- Describe it literally – Example: The Face Shop (keep in mind this can be easy to imitate)
- Alter an existing word by adding or removing letters – Example: Flickr (removed the letter “e”)
- Look to Latin – Example: Volvo (Latin for “I roll”)
- Make a portmanteau – Example: Facebook (a combination of two words, Face + Book)
- Turn a string of words into an acronym – Example: IBM (International Business Machines)
- Add prefixes and suffixes – Example: Shopify (Shop +ify)
- Choose a place – Example: Amazon (named after the largest river in the world by volume of water, largest ecommerce platform by volume of products)
- Use your own name – Example: Levis (named after founder Levi Strauss)
Once you’ve decided on a business name, revisit your brand’s vision, mission, and values – does your name reflect any or all three? If so, you’re one step closer to creating a strong brand.
4. Come up with a slogan/tagline
When creating your slogan, it’s wise to keep your company’s mission and purpose in mind. You’ll want to sum up your business purpose in a single sentence that’s not only memorable but speaks the truth about your brand.
Slogan creation is a great time to keep it simple. Your slogan should be short and catchy to make a strong impression and remain memorable!
Write something brief and descriptive that you can use in your social media bios, website headline, marketing emails, etc. to make a big impact when seen.
Also, slogans don’t have to be a forever thing: you can always change your slogan as you find new angles for marketing, or yes, feel free to stick to the same one if it works!
To get started you can take several approaches:
- Make your claim — Example: Carlsberg – “Probably the Best Beer in the World”
- Use a metaphor — Example: Skittles – “Taste the Rainbow”
- Tell ‘em what to do — Example: Apple – “Think Different.”
- Leverage labels — Example: Cards Against Humanity – “A party game for horrible people.”
- Get poetic — Example: Folgers Coffee – “The best part of wakin’ up is Folgers in your cup.”
- Compliment your customers: Example: L’Oreal – “Because you’re worth it”
Building and using your brand identity
After you’ve tackled your brand strategy, it’s time for the fun part — coming up with the visuals that will make up your brand identity! This consists of:
1. A logo
A logo is the face of your brand — it’s the tip of the brand identity iceberg! Consider your audience and what would resonate with them, while effectively communicating who you are and what you do as a business.
When designing your logo, it should be timeless and scalable so you’ll have a lasting design that can easily be used in a variety of mediums.
Whether you’re a designer or not, it helps to keep the following five tips in mind when it comes to logo design:
- Keep it simple
- Make it memorable
- Test for versatility
- Ask, “is it appropriate?”
- Create for the long-term
After designing your logo, ask yourself if it captures the essence of your brand. If so, you can move onto building up your color palette, typography, and more.
2. A color palette
After you have a logo, you have the foundation of a color palette (it’ll often be included in your brand guidelines!).
When thinking about color, it’s good to think of how much of an impact it can have on your brand. Just think of the famous Tiffany Blue: The feelings associated with that shade of blue are often surprise, joy, and awe. Tiffany has done a solid job of incorporating their brand color in their packaging and marketing materials; people can’t help but recognize the brand before even seeing the logo.
When deciding which colors will convey the feeling you want to communicate, it’s helpful to brush up on some color psychology and understand which colors are associated with certain feelings.
Be wise in choosing colors that effectively differentiate you from direct competitors to avoid confusing consumers. Oftentimes specific colors are commonly used across industries, such as blue within the finance industry or green for the environment.
Experiment with different tints and shades, and don’t be shy to explore colors not commonly used within your industry! The more you stand out from competitors, the better.
The magical loops and swirls of Disney’s custom typeface simply wouldn’t make sense if used anywhere other than for Disney’s marketing material. You don’t even need to see Disney’s logo, yet spotting their typeface anywhere will automatically trigger the thought of the happiest place on earth.
Just as important as color, your font choice sends a message of who and what your brand is. Choose one to two fonts to use for headings and body text and stick to it across channels (it could be the fonts used in your logo, or complementary typefaces). You can even go choose one main font and use different cuts and weights of it.
4. Shapes and imagery
Shapes and imagery play a fundamental role in visual communication. Consider the way you want your audience to feel when they come across visual elements of your brand. For example, using rounded shapes communicate feelings of unity and comfort, while hard-edged shapes are better suited for displaying stability and reliability.
By strategically using imagery on your website and other marketing materials, you can deepen your audience’s attachment to your brand. Choose impactful visuals — even if they’re stock photos or graphics — that will resonate with your target audience.
Tip: When choosing imagery, think about your brand voice: is your voice loud and bold? Modern and edgy? Your images should reflect that to ensure a cohesive visual communication strategy.
5. Brand guidelines
As mentioned earlier in this piece, an important part of your brand identity are guidelines about how to use your logo and other parts of your brand and logo.
Logo guidelines often include:
- Logo elements – a visual guide to the elements that make up your logo (wordmark, icon, and slogan)
- Color variations – the primary (colored) version of your logo, along with black and white variations
- Clear space — also known as padding, safety space, and exclusion zone, this ensures maximum visibility and impact when you use your logo
- Unacceptable uses – examples of what not to do with the logo design to prevent it from being altered. This includes alterations such as changing the color, rotating, scaling, etc. You’ll also want to indicate the smallest size at which it can appear.
In addition to the above, feel free to include your mission statement, visual rules for images and icons, brand voice strategy, and specifications for packaging, email marketing, and more.
To maintain brand association in the minds of consumers, you’ll need to use your brand assets consistently across all marketing touch points. Use your brand guidelines when you’re:
- Designing brand assets (websites, social media accounts, packaging, etc.)
- Working with a designer (or someone else building brand assets for you)
- Working with a printer or print shop
- Bringing on a new employee
- Building your brand as you grow your business
Ready to start building a brand for your new business?
Incorporating your brand identity into every aspect of your business
Part of establishing a consistent brand is living up to and staying true to it to instill trust in your customers while providing direction to your team (even if that team is just you).
Spent hours, days, maybe even weeks on crafting that perfect slogan? Pop it into your emails and social media bios to resonate with your audience. Perfected that shade of green that encompasses your brand’s personality? Show it off in your packaging.
Here’s how you can start integrating your brand into your business (even if you’re just getting started):
- Add your logo to your website
- Get business cards with your logo and brand colors
- Insert your logo to your email signature
- Maintain consistent profile and cover images across your social media channels
- Put your logo on apparel and stationery
Check out this post for more business branding ideas!
The branding process should never be rushed. It’s important to clearly define your brand strategy early on, so you can build on it as you grow your business.
This process is different for everyone — think back to Morgan of Girl Gang Goodies, who launched her business in two weeks!
If you’re starting out by yourself, you probably have a lot of other things to do, but make sure to spend at least a bit of time thinking about the brand you want to build.
On this exciting journey, remember to:
- Understand why branding is important
- Create a concrete strategy that defines your target audience
- Establish your brand’s identity and use it consistently across channels
Once you come up with your strategy and design your logo, you’ll already have taken a big step in building your brand. Soon enough your brand identity will come together to support your business and build trust and recognition among customers.
Show the world what you’ve got!